A Dangerous Joke


About 90 minutes into Thursday’s forum on LGBTQ issues in Los Angeles, a gay rights leader posed a question to Sen. Elizabeth Warren: How would she respond if a voter approached her and said, “I’m old-fashioned, and my faith teaches me that marriage is between one man and one woman?”

Warren (D-Mass.) responded with a theatrical seriousness. “Well, I’m going to assume it’s a guy who said that,” she deadpanned, pausing a beat for the audience to catch the joke. Then she added, “And I’m going to say, ‘Then just marry one woman — I’m cool with that.’ ”

She finished with a zinger:

“ ‘Assuming you can find one.’ ” – Annie Linesky for Washington Post, Oct. 11, 2019

Elizabeth Warren
One of probably a billion selfies…. Me and Elizabeth Warren in Cambridge, MA – Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018

As an openly gay faith leader with deeply liberal political views, I feel strongly that Senator Warren got it wrong and completely mis-represented me.  Taking a play from Trump’s book, she was playing to her base on Thursday night, but what she missed is that faith is no joke particularly if it is not your faith.  The first lesson of true interfaith work (and I believe that running for office must be a powerful exercise in this work) is that everyone’s beliefs are sacrosanct.  Everyone in the room must be taken seriously.  More importantly everyone must be invited into the room because if you win the race, you will be tasked with the sacred act of governing those who are directly aligned with you and those who oppose you…equally.

I believe we can make this world work with someone like me and those of my colleagues who believe that a ministry like mine is somehow illegitimate because of my sexuality or because it is not rooted in a Western orientation toward God.  The big takeaway for anyone involved in the delicate healing work of interfaith engagement is that modern faith in the public square cannot be about absolutes even when the personal faith is grounded in such unbending beliefs.  Public and un-listening absolutism is what created the wedge and reinforcing it with the kind of snarky, nose-looky-downy humor that was used in the forum on Tuesday weaponizes liberal thought.

This does none of us on the ground any good.  It is a gross step backward and a slap in the face to those of us who are working every day to bring people together against what feels increasingly like impossible odds.  Please, please don’t make our work more difficult by turning it into a Saturday Night Live sketch.

The correct response would not have been a joke. Senator Warren’s answer implies that faith is a triviality.  Coming from that standpoint alienates the large swath of people who base their political decisions on their beliefs…whether they identify with a faith tradition or not.

The correct response would have been something like this:

“Sir, you have the right to believe that marriage is between one woman and one man.  But your rights and beliefs cannot eclipse or erase the beliefs of others.  The US Constitution and the Supreme Court decision that was handed down on June 26, 2015 granting all people the right to marry in the United States regardless of gender identity, upholds this basic principle. We are ALL protected by the Constitution and that means a man who believes in marriage between one man and one woman, the person who believes in marriage between two men, a transwoman and a cisgender man or two females who identify as bi-sexual.  This decision strengthens the protections for you, sir, as much as anyone else because it affirms the human need for intimate relationships and it publicly affirms love.  All consenting adult people are granted this right by the covenant we share as one nation. 

Marriage, like healthcare is a human right…not the exclusive province of the Religious Right.”

So I say to Senator Warren, if you are going to talk faith, take time to dig as deeply into the nuances of it as you have taken to dig into our national finances.  No one calls out for a balance sheet and a calculator on their deathbed and the number of Accountants marrying people and blessing children is minimal.

You and the rest of the candidates need to have a public forum on faith if you actually want to win in 2020.


Are We Ready for Religious Equity?

Liberal Religion…Where Are You?

Do You Know You Are White?

First Black

In looking for a way to share my sermon from last weekend, I came across this CNN piece from last February. Although I appreciate the stories shared in The First Time I Realized I Was Black, I struggle with this because the premise of the question puts the onus on black people to recognize their difference.  Once again, people of color are on display doing the work of explaining racism.  Time and again the work against racism reinforces marginalization by assuming the the position of a white gaze.  I can only imagine what white viewers of this CNN piece think, but I know that my reaction was basically, “well duh!”  Why is no one asking white people when they first realized they were white?  I actually have asked this question in workshop settings challenging people (a racially mixed group) to think about and share when they were first aware of their own “race”.  The difference between non-white and white answers was shocking to me and I’m sure it is indicative of the biggest disconnect in racial discourse.  All of the non-white people who grew up in this country shared recollections of coming to this awareness in childhood and very early in life; all of the white people shared coming to this awareness as adults or even fairly recently late in life.  This means that at least in that particular situation, the non-white people were formed in part by their identity as the “other” while the white people reached adulthood without any sense of being placed as an outsider because of their race.

So, last weekend, as part of our commitment to the Unitarian Universalist series of White Supremacy Teach Ins,  I gave a sermon, Weaving Our Stories that challenges the premise of the CNN piece by asking where do people who identify as bi-racial, multi-racial and mixed race fit in the work and conversations to de-center whiteness and end white supremacy?  How do we do this work without asking someone to make a choice between their identities, or worse casting one as good and the other as bad?  How do we not fall into the racist paradigm of the “one drop rule” that shaped segregation in this country and still reverberates in our language, our attitudes and our economics of race and that frankly fuels the relevance of the CNN piece?  I think part of the answer is built into the complex psychology that motivates anyone’s need to answer the question of “the first time I realized I was [non-white]”  But real solutions to our struggles of race can only happen when white people are also willing to answer the question “do you actually know you are white?”